[Marxism] Charlie Schwartz and Richard Levins exchange

Michael Perelman michael at ecst.csuchico.edu
Thu Mar 16 20:55:02 MST 2006


Lou, as a fellow fan of the People's History of Science, you know that 
Conner shatters Schwarts's story.



On Thu, Mar 16, 2006 at 10:23:58PM -0500, Louis Proyect wrote:
> (Fascinating exchange between Richard Levins and Charlie Schwartz on the 
> Science for the People Mailing list connected to a thread on Islam and 
> science. Schwartz is physics professor emeritus at Berkeley. Levins is at 
> Harvard. Co-authored "Dialectical Biologist" with Richard Lewontin.)
> 
> Richard Levins trying to explain the rise of Europe:
> "Yes, but also recall that incipient developments toward capitalism in 15th 
> century China ( with the explorations of Cheng Ho) were suppressed by the 
> court and crushed definitively by the Manchu conquest."
> 
> Charlie Schwartz resonds:
> There is a story I heard many years ago about something that happened in 
> Portugal in the 15th century.  It seems that a low ranking son of the king 
> was interested in science and he established a research center which 
> specialized in developing techniques for more effective ocean travel.  One 
> of their successes was learning how to keep water drinkable for longer 
> voyages: 500 miles was the new span of their ships and you can see on a map 
> how they (the Portugese) then established colonies in Africa at 
> Guinea-Bissua, Angola and Mozambique - colonies that lasted for 500 
> years!  And when Columbus did his thing, the experts at that research 
> enclave immediately understood what it meant and were able to get Portugal 
> effective in the New World.
> 
> So much for the (impotent) role of the ruling class in science.
> 
> But there is a second chapter to this story.  It seems that England decided 
> that this Portugese science laboratory was important. So they sent a 
> military expedition down there to steal everything they thought valuable 
> and destroy what was left.  And that, according to this story, led to the 
> birth of the most esteemed Royal Society.
> 
> Where did I hear this amazing story?  It was from my an MIT classmate, Hans 
> Mark, who went on to be Secretary of the Air Force and Chancellor of the 
> University of Texas.  When he told this ripe old tale in my class many 
> years ago, I congratulated him for his sophisticated Marxist view of 
> history; to which he responded with all sorts of denials.
> 
> Does anyone else know this story?  Is it accurate? What does it mean in 
> terms of this debate over the understanding of how science became 
> most  powerful in Europe?
> 
> Charlie
> 
> 
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-- 
Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
Chico, CA 95929

Tel. 530-898-5321
E-Mail michael at ecst.csuchico.edu




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